Monday, November 9, 2015

Plumbing the Depths.

Let me tell you what's going on at my house right now:
A seemingly routine call to a plumber led to a second appointment and the addition of two more plumbers. They showed up a bit ago in the giant truck. The "take no prisoners" truck. They have already pulled up the carpet of the family room and are busily breaking up the concrete floor while I cower, stress-eating chocolate bars in my bedroom.

And how is your Monday going?

Initially, I dealt very well with the news. "What are ya' gonna' do?" I told Hubby cheerfully, "It's not as if we can't fix this. We'll make it work somehow."

I was very, very proud of myself. You see, I have this tiny issue with money in that I don't actually have any. This has led, at different times, to all sorts of emotional theatrics on my part. The fact that I was able to respond with any sort of equilibrium to the initial diagnosis and quote I took as a sign of hard won maturity. Yay, me!

That was before the sledgehammers.

Now, whenever they come upstairs to give me an update, I laugh, "HA, hahaha!" It's a jovial laugh with only the slightest tinge of hysteria. They may be figuring the final cost of this in terms of feet of pipe, but I'm tracking it as amount of kitchen remodel lost. "Well, that would've bought a dishwasher and paid to have the floors re-sanded," I say. "Oops, there goes the countertop." The good news is, I guess if we had been truly desperate, we could have gone ahead and retooled the kitchen. The bad news is, I have a nagging suspicion that now we never will.

Did that sound dramatic? I'm feeling dramatic. I feel like day drinking and then lying face down on the couch and hyperventilating into the cushions. Maybe later--after the chocolate runs out. Right now I'm just going to lie very still and be grateful for credit cards and running water and old, persnickety cats and pillowcases from Grandma's house and warm slippers. I'm going to think thankful thoughts about Christmas Club savings accounts and long autumns, soy milk eggnog, and the fact that my children's love doesn't hinge on my ability to buy them expensive do-hickies. I'm going to contemplate how happiness is not dependent on circumstances and then, when I'm feeling quite like myself again, I'm going to venture downstairs to sneak a peek at the hole in the floor.

Give me ten minutes. Maybe an hour.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Ultra Countdown.

This is happening, people. Tomorrow. Tomorrow is my 50 mile ultra marathon. I'm seemingly pretty chill but that might due to being paralyzed by anxiety.

Yesterday was a great day. Yesterday I got up, did yoga and had a shiatsu massage. I love massages and try very hard to get them once every other year or so. Sigh. If I had any of that mythological "extra" money laying around, I'd have a massage once a week....once a day, if I could swing it. I would live in a 500 square foot shack next to the lavish house I gifted to my masseuse, just so they would always be at my beck and call. There is nothing else that feels as inherently healing to me. I honestly believe massage could heal just about anything that wrong with me, be it my Raynaud's, my old-lady hip or my inherent cynicism. Obviously, it was quite a treat for me.

I was celebrating the end of my training. See, yesterday there was no stress. Yesterday wasn't a pack and prep and freak out day. Not a stare-wide-eyed-at-the-sky-yelling-"Stop RAINING!" day. Yesterday I didn't have to worry about oversleeping or falling or being cut from the race for being too damn slow. (A solid possibility.) I rarely feel as content as I did yesterday. Six months of training, for whatever errors and injuries and set-backs, seemed something to commemorate and so I did.

If I don't make the cut off time,
it's because of this hill...

or this one...

Or because I fell down this one...

I was thinking about all I gained over the past months. (Besides eight, stupid pounds I mean, which we are all going to agree is muscle, right?) And what popped into my mind was how often I had to practice silencing that bitchy, inner voice--the one that says "You can not do this thing." 50 miles is kind of a deal. I honestly cannot remember the last time I felt so breathless with the enormity of a task. Maybe in the last, anxious weeks of my first pregnancy. You think you know what's going to happen, because you've done your homework--read your little books, bought the gear, took the vitamins--but you also suspect that you are completely full of shit and utterly unprepared. Dead on to what I feel right now. So full of cautious optimism and simultaneous regret; I didn't prepare correctly, I'm not fit enough, look at me! I'm no athlete! All week I have been simply pushing those thoughts from my head with the same, cold-hearted precision with which I have culled other unwanted brain nuggets; historical dates, election news, and the pressing need to schedule preventative dental care. Whenever I start feeling negative I simply refuse to think about it.

This is maybe the healthiest activity I have engaged in during the entire process--learning that I do not need to place any credence on critical thoughts that bubble up through my brain. My brain also periodically tosses out the lyrics to the Lutheran Girl Pioneer theme song we used to sing before meetings back in the 1970s, and I don't spend any time or energy on that, do I? (Actually, I do. It was kind of a catchy tune.)

I feel in all the "think optimistic" advice floating around out there, this was the part that I missed. How to deal with negative thoughts? Literally don't think about it. Refuse. "Oh my god, I'm as big as a house today." Push that sucker right out of the brain the nanosecond it pops up. Treat it like the sudden apparition of your second grade teacher's maiden name and get on with your day.  Discard it without emotion. Decide that self-criticism holds no interest to you. Boring. Like the milling process of Cream of Wheat or calculating compound interest--let it be a snoozefest with which you cannot be bothered.

How perfectly marveous! Obviously, it's going to take some practice. I don't always succeed, but it has helped me maintain a pretty positive outlook during training. Like on the day I was running around a local lake and being relentlessly passed by younger, fitter, faster runners. I have been known to not take to that situation well. In the past, there might have been a time, though you can't prove it, that I abandoned my run to sit pouting on a bench because I was so frustrated. This time I managed to dismiss all that negative comparisons. Instead, I focused on the beauty of the lake and the ease with which I ran. I wondered idly how many of these young runners would still be running two decades from now? How many would be looking to run longer and longer distances?

"I am a goddamn inspiration." I said, and then laughed until I snorted. Yes, it made me look like a lunatic, but, luckily, I no longer worry about things like that.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Desk of One's Own.

I don't know why I thought writing a book and simultaneously training for an Ultra-marathon would be a good idea. Perhaps because my parents dropped me on my head at some point, I'm guessing. It definitely doesn't speak to a clear grasp of my personal reality or an understanding about simple time management. Plus, as it shakes out, they are both coming to fruition about the same time which means I am stuck in the middle of a month of anxiety about the outcomes and nothing good has yet happened. Well, nothing but this:

That, my friends, is my very own desk. I haven't had a dedicated space for writing, ever! And yes, I know, the magazine clippings on the wall make it look like a fourteen-year-old's bedroom and, yes, that is a vision board (Don't judge me--if Oprah says a vision board will get me a kitchen remodel, then vision board it is.) and I admit, it is a little too close to the cat box to be entirely magical, but, sweet mother of Jesus, a space of my own?!! I am in heaven. By my calculations, I have about five hot seconds before the kids start stealing the pens out of the drawer and leaving their dirty socks on the keyboard, but I am going to enjoy every single moment before that happens. I may even get some writing done.

Maybe. Right now it is mostly the place I escape to, in order to eat peanut butter toast in relative silence. Because peanut butter toast fuels the writing process, obviously. I've had three pieces already this morning. (Someone better adjust her toast-to-writing ratio, or my next blog will be brought to you by The Biggest Loser.)

Another plus, though it might not seem to be so on first blush, is that my desk is very close to the laundry room. Here's why that is a good thing; Sometimes you need to pace. Or mull something over whilst engaging in some mindless, repetitive job. Or just burn off a little anxiety, because clearly you have used up every good, creative thought that could possibly be born out of your brain. Right now, for instance, I am 95% positive that I have used up all my ideas and that I am, at this moment, an empty shell of a woman. (Well, an empty shell filled with toast, like a piƱata, but you get my point.)

I can mention it, I think, because I know other people feel exactly the same. We readily own all of our faults and errors, but the good things we do...? We feel like we hit the lottery. Rather than name our successes as the inevitable result of our hard work or expertise, we chalk it up to chance. You know, I have been writing since Junior High, and every single time someone comments that they like something I've written, I nearly fall to the ground, limp with relief. "Fooled them again!" I think, so grateful that it has magically escaped their notice that I am a total fraud who can barely string two words together. 

And the craziest thing is how very common that belief is. This world is full of generous, brilliant, kind and creative people who not-so-secretly believe themselves to be dull, talentless, under-performing hacks. Who feel like they are clumsily plodding through their days, never aware of the graceful dance we see in their movements. Such a shame. 

It reminds me of something I read and passed on to Miss Teen Wonder last year, when she was struggling with the transition to college; "Never compare your insides to other people's outsides." Rare is the person who manages to come out of that comparison unscathed. Of course, have enough kids and the Law of Averages mandates you will find yourself living with just such a person. And I do. 

One of our twin girls used to worry me half to death. She seemed so needy for attention that I worried she would never have a sense of herself, that her tendency to fling her little body into the spotlight was the result of low self-esteem. Oh, but I was mistaken. I see now that she was merely waiting for the rest of us to get on board with her obvious fabulousness--a trait that, as her mother, I find admirable and only rarely irritating.

She is so comfortable with herself and aware of her many gifts that I think she is honestly taken aback when she enters a room and there is no applause. At least, she wouldn't be surprised if there was. Furthermore, she cannot understand why everyone else does not feel the exact, same way. I often hear her lecturing her more anxious sister about recognizing your own talent and she is very generous in her assessments of others.

That child's insides match her outsides, no doubt about it. You can bet she wouldn't have waited 30-some odd years to set up a desk. What can I say? It takes some of us longer than others--and if we aren't exactly dancing yet, at least we've turned up the music.

Cha, cha, cha!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

It's a Jungle Out There!

       I spent my afternoon off weeding my husband's gardens while he was at work. I think that means I no longer need to purchase him an anniversary present this year. I also drank his beer while I did it, which falls under the "spoils of war" category, I believe, or possibly, "while the cat's away..." 

For various reasons, the end of summer got away from him and his gardens ran amok, took on a sort of mad ferociousness. It looks like a radioactive experiment gone awry out there--any second a giant garden toad is going to thunder out of the depths and terrorize the neighborhood. We have kale plants that come up to my waist and as much as I love green smoothies, I can't imagine that I will ever find a use for it all.

You need to understand that this is a particularly laudable and unselfish action on my part. I hate gardening. No. More than that. I loathe it. I loathe the feel of dirt. I loathe the jolt when a particularly creepy crawly thing makes it presence known. I absolutely hate reaching my hand into a deeply overgrown area. (What's in there? Frog? Snake? Displaced raccoon bent on revenge?) I'm also not fond of sun, heat, sweating, or the feel of gardening gloves. 

When I was younger, the slightest summertime infraction would get me sent out to the garden to weed. Horrors! We lived in the country, surrounded by pine forest which, in the summer, meant aggressive deer flies absolutely committed to sucking you dry, usually by burrowing through your hair to your scalp. I can still feel the crunch from pinching the life from them and then sliding them down my hair before tossing them to the ground. Gross. Plus, the dirt was really, really sandy and really, really full of slugs. I have to give my mom kudos, I’m not sure how she got anything to grow there—especially considering the incompetent and sullen help she had to work with. 

I’d like to think that my technique has improved a little bit over the decades. That I remember to pull the weeds out from the roots and not just hack, resentfully, at the stuff visible above the ground.

Like I said, I'd like to think that. 

Still it was better than nothing. Although, dangerous, nonetheless. See, there I was, weeding the rose bed when I started pulling out....carrots? 

"How odd," I thought. "These plants sure do migrate." But then I stopped and reconsidered. Because I am married to exactly the type of man who would plant roses and carrots together on the grounds that, "the sun is better over there." 

This is why any foray into the garden is dangerous for me. Before long I am exasperatedly demanding that he stop planting the broccoli and the zinnias together and -BAM!- I'm back to having the garden be my job. Which would be terrible. My garden would be so much worse. And by that I mean it would be lawn. 

So happy extra-early anniversary, darlin'. You keep planting your wacky Mad Hatter gardens if that's what makes you happy. I picked those carrots for you. And if you find that you are out of beer, it wasn't me. I think the giant garden toad drank them. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Good-bye Summer! No, really. Vamoose!

I just realized that school starts in a mere two weeks--can I get an "Amen?" I love my children, you understand, but that love is ever so much less complicated when they are somebody else's problem for eight hours a day. Yup. Less complicated and a whole lot less yell-y. During the school year my house is messy because we are so very busy, which is understandable. In summer my house is messy because my five offspring apparently believe my second job is to wait on them as a handmaiden does the Queen of England. Nightly I screech, "What happened to this house?!!!" only to have each child lazily survey the devastation and offer only the blandest look of indifference. One morning as I was heading out to actual, gainful employment, I asked Little Man to complete a job that would have taken five minutes, ten minutes, tops. In complete seriousness he threw down his toast and exclaimed, "Great! My whole day, ruined!"

This is what I am working with, people. 

I could probably handle it all more gracefully, if I weren't already handicapped by the season. This year's admirably cooler temperatures notwithstanding, summer remains my least favorite time of year. In the first place, I am ill-suited for any of the frolicking summer-time activities others seem to enjoy so much. I have no interest in swimming, or tanning or gardening. Organized sports bore me to the point of violence. And biking? We all know how I feel about biking

This year, during a trip up north, my sister took me and my kids inner-tubing for the first time. A genius move, I thought. Tubing would seem to side step any normal pitfalls of summertime activities: no coordinated effort required, no rules to follow, sanctioned alcoholic libations as evidenced by the offer of a special inner-tube for your beverage cooler...You would have thought I would be a natural. Unfortunately, I seem to lack even the barest coordination required for lying passively in an inflated circle of plastic. Thus "tubing down lazy river" sometimes looked an awful lot like "careening violently into half-submerged and spider infested tree branch" and later like, "nursing a sunburn on par with an industrial accident." God bless my sister for her patience. She is a competent, vigorous sort and no doubt wonders how she ended up having a pale and tubercular Victorian shut-in as a sister. If we were literary characters, she would be Heidi, all apple-cheeked and glowing good health and I would be Clara, clutching my afghan as I recline, wanly, on the divan. 

If it can even be deemed possible, my eldest daughter is even worst than I -- which brings me to another reason summer needs to end. Miss Teen Wonder is home from college, and I swear to God, no parent should ever have to live with their child at this age. At least, not mine. She is currently sleeping in the basement and my whole and entire focus on days she does not work is to get her to come up to surface level. I'm not certain if I'm raising a daughter or a mole. When I do manage to drag her up into the the sunlight, she stumbles around like a hungover starlet at the Chateau Marmont, demanding someone fetch her sunglasses and a sparkling water. 

I feel responsible, like maybe my own, oft repeated distain for summer has seeped into her brain and squashed any healthy impulse she might have to scamper off and enjoy the sun-soaked weather. At this point it's probably too late for her. She's spent too many years watching her mother spend entire summer afternoons downstairs, in the dark, stretched out directly under the air conditioning vent watching The X-Files re-runs. "Do as I say, not as I do" is a sketchy argument at best and my expression of bliss and total contentment on these stolen afternoons pretty much destroyed any bit of credibility I might have had on subjects related to fresh air and sunshine. 

Clearly, if I am going to save the rest of the kids from a similar fate, I have to be an example of someone who, ugh, enjoys summer. I think I'm going to give tubing another try; it’s clearly my best chance for developing some sort of outdoor interest. Next time I'm going to accept the offer of a beverage tube, though. It'll give me something to do while I wait to be freed from the tree branch.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Take My Bike, Please!

One of my very least favorite activities is biking. Which is weird. You’d think it would be right in my wheelhouse (ha!)— Environmentally friendly, the fresh air, the kick-ass feeling of arriving at your destination under your own power…and also? Cute baskets! They are like purses, for your bike! And let’s not forget, despite being shrouded in snow twenty-seven months of the year, Minneapolis is the number one biking city in America. (Suck it, Portland!) We have absolutely lovely trails and paths dedicated to bikers, one of which runs from the end of my street directly to my place of employment. So I keep trying to like it. But I don't. I hate it. I'm the person who is forever two-seconds away from running into a parked car because I'm cranked around in my seat, checking the back wheel which I'm certain is flat because -Sweet mother of God!- why is this so hard?!! I tell you what, last Sunday I ran 12 miles and I would rather do that any day of the week than bike the thirty minutes to work. 

Take this morning, for example; it was a coolish summer day. Not too hot, not too windy, perfect for biking. I packed up my work clothes and my lunch and my coffee in a backpack and set off. I got all of ten feet before I realize that, yes, the back tire was in fact flat. So I threw up the kickstand, put my backpack in the basket and went to get a bike pump. Of course my hateful bike tipped over, dislodging the lid on my coffee cup and flooding the bag with all that sweet, sweet coffee. This necessitated a panicked repacking of all my work necessities. I pumped up the tire and set off. On the way a large-ish bump sent my mason-jar-packed lunch flying. Smash! My beautiful summer salad all over the street. At this point I have no coffee, no lunch and it's too damn late to go back and get the car. Also, my bike’s particular geometry is such that it's prone to picking up large rocks, sticks, and branches. Today it picked up a rock and shot it so forcibly out the chain guard that the rim was dented in the exact correct position so that every time I rotated the pedal it hit the guard and sounded exactly like a bell gong. Every. Single. Time. That wasn't annoying at all.

I arrived at work hot, sweating profusely, and with a caffeine headache hovering around my right eye. I pounded the counter with my fist. "Why do I continue to do this to myself?!” I demanded of my coworkers who looked at me as if I had blown a gasket. And they were right. I spent the entire ride home sullenly glaring at the other bikers and preparing this list:

Reasons why Biking is the worst.

1) The sitting. As a runner I feel a deep distrust of any exercise that happens in a chair.  I know, I know…that sounds so insufferably superior, especially since a casual ride to work makes me feel like my heart might explode. (The whole damn ride must be uphill, there is no other explanation.) So let me just amend it to say that if I was going to exercise sitting down, it wouldn’t be on a seat engineered to replicate the most painful wedgie I ever experienced. Get with the program, bike seat scientists!
2) The gear.  I am absolutely gobsmacked every time I putter down the bike path on my creaky old bike and see people going no faster than I in $80 jerseys and aerodynamic helmets. Really? REALLY?!  Why do 8 out of 10 amateur bikers feel the need to outfit themselves as if they are about to join the Tour De France? (This is completely different from all my running paraphernalia. I NEED all that stuff. Need it, I say!)
3) People who shout "On your left!” As they pass. This is not a courtesy. This is the surest way to send me careening into the retaining wall at the side of the bike path. I get it, okay? You’re faster than me. Your grandmother’s faster than me. That kid on the Big wheel? Faster. Now shut up and let me hate this ride in peace.  
4) Biking hand signals. Sir. That thing you are doing with your arm? I have no idea what that is.
5) Bikers Who do not follow the rules of the road. Dude. When you blew past me, through the red light, you scared me half to death and I'm on a bike. When you shoot past me and I'm in the car? Well, it makes me want to call your mother. You are biking with the same laissez-faire attitude toward your safety as my youngest son and the last time I caught him biking like that, I grounded him for a week. 
6) And take off your headphones while you’re at it! You are going to get yourself killed, I swear to god. 
        7) Those god-awful helmets. Dear lord, the ugliest hats I ever saw. Whenever my kids (rightfully) call me a hypocrite for insisting that they wear helmets while I have never even owned one, I tell them that when they are grown-up they can make all the foolish decisions they want. Besides, if they were really as concerned with my safety as I am with my hair, they would have already bought me this.

Despite the grumpiness virtually dripping off this post, I'm going to continue biking. It's good for me, dang it, it lowers my environmental footprint and there is no reason for me to be so unreasonably crabby about the whole thing. Eventually I'm going to have to warm to it... or at the very least, I couldn't like it any less, so what do I have to lose?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Sunshine Rules

       It's come to my attention, embarrassingly late in the game, that I am living with a real-life spiritual master. Forget running off to India, to study, cross-legged, at the feet of a maddeningly serene yogi. No need to attend a silent retreat run by a wise and beatific elderly nun. Here, in my home, I have discovered a soul who seems to have unlocked the secrets to eternal happiness and oddly enough, this soul resides in the body of a thirteen year old girl. 

It must be the inner turmoil brought on by the past few years that finally opened my eyes to what was right in front of me. Closing my business, ushering Miss Teen Wonder off to college, losing my much loved Grandmother, the looming realization that -to paraphrase Meg Ryan- I'm going to be fifty... someday; all these have left me, wandering in an internal funk, constantly asking the question, "What the hell am I doing with my life anyway?" And there, dancing, most often literally, around the periphery was my daughter. Let's call her "Sunshine." 

Sunshine is half of the amazing duo-- the twin girls-- in the middle of our family. She is tiny, but sturdy, with a laugh that seems far too big for the bitty body she inhabits. She has a thousand watt smile and hair as big as her heart. She is up for anything, always. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.

Born this way.

I'm not sure how she has managed to amass such an affinity for happiness and contentment at such a young age. She is, as I mentioned, a twin. Perhaps rather than splitting the DNA down the middle, each girl received total possession of a few gifts. Her sister is fiercely competitive (a trait Sunshine has not a trace of) and if she stopped rolling her eyes at me for even a second, I suspect the resulting lack of equilibrium would cause her head to wobble right off the stalk, so perhaps there is something to this theory. Or maybe it is because her mind is unencumbered with tedious minutia... for example, the practical application of volume. That, perhaps, when one is trying to put a sizable amount of left-over soup into the refrigerator, one might choose to use, say, a large container, rather than roughly twenty-seven half-pint mason jars. When I open the refrigerator doors and spy a sea of tiny glass bottles, all containing the same, exact substance I feel as if my brain might explode. It doesn't bother Sunshine one whit. She'll cheerfully rummage through the lot, looking for the mustard or the last bit of salami, happy as a clam. I don't think she has an idea that there is any other way to be in the world. And that is my new directive as her mother-- to make sure that she never does.        

My other goal is to study her like a lab rat. To learn what she so effortlessly knows. Here is what I've sussed out so far: 

The Sunshine Rules

1) Happiness isn't (or shouldn't be) dependent on your circumstances. The fact that you are awake and breathing is cause enough to break into song. Sunshine wakes up happy. Is she headed to school? To run errands with her dad? Spending the day cleaning her room? It's all good. Happiness for me is much more conditional. The answers to the questions "What do I have to do today?" "Do these jeans still fit?" or "Are we out of coffee?" affect me far more than they should.  

2) Music is magic. Sunshine is never NOT singing, hence she moves through the house, not with the determined head-down, goose-stepping march of her mother (I've got things to DO, people!) but with a perpetual shimmy. If you are accompanied by your own soundtrack every waking moment is a dance party. Plenty of spiritual traditions give credence to the uplifting power of certain audio vibrations-- I just didn't imagine that the Demi Lovato songbook was, in fact, a hymnal of sorts.  

3) Be a cheerleader. Now this is something Sunshine and her sister share. They are unflaggingly, unceasingly, unerringly supportive. They are never --listen to me, now-- never, not ever, jealous. If something good happens to the folks around them, they are as happy as if it was happening to themselves. Check out Sunshine's Facebook page. If you post any good news, any at all, "My baby just turned one!" or "Loved this movie!" or "Delicious lunch with friends." Sunshine will not just "like" your post, you are getting a string of emojis, the likes of which you have never before seen. Who doesn't feel on top of the world when she responds to your new profile pic with, "You are GORGEOUS!!!!!! (kissy face, kissy face, heart, heart, winking cat,  heart, high five, cat high five, thumbs up)" It is my favorite thing in the world, and one I have already started using, my own self. The fact that you do not have such enthusiastic cheerleaders in your life, well, I just feel plain sorry for you. 

I don't know if any of this is helpful to you, but I feel as if my own life gets dramatically better when I remember to follow The Sunshine Rules. I've read literally hundreds of books dedicated to unlocking the secret of a happy and contented life and none of them have been as effective as Sunshine's effortless wisdom; Be happy where you are, sing a little song and encourage the people around you. Enlightenment in three, easy steps. Use them if you'd like-- we'll be here, cheering you on.